Snoopy Co-worker

Question:

I work at a coffee house and have three years experience in the espresso business. The company I work for is new and I am the only one who had the experience prior to being hired. There were two that had special training right before we opened and one that I have been training. Right from the start the two that had special training have belittled me and my other coworker and the job we are doing. Now after two months of enduring the belittling we have started to actually let the past be past, or at least thats what I thought.

I just found out that one of the ladies has gone through my employment file and is contacting former employers. She actually had her husband talk to them but her name and number showed up on the caller ID. He asked all sorts of questions about my employment there and when she questioned who he was he hung up on her.

I asked my boss if he had authorized this and he said no. I wrote a letter to my employers stating that i was lodging a formal complaint about this lady harassing me and now going through my employment files. He said he would take care of it but I am concerned that because she is his favorite it will just get swept under the rug. What action should I take if this matter isn’t handled properly.

Signed,

Being Snooped About


Answer:

Dear Being Snooped About:

There is apparently a great deal of conflict and mistrust at work, for things to have gotten to this point! I’m sorry your manager hasn’t taken action about that already. This recent situation would certainly be unsettling.

You wonder what to do if it isn’t handled properly–but the question for you to consider is, what will you consider to be the proper handling of it? Your employer may not fire your co-worker, but only warn her. That may or may not be the right thing to do, based on the totality of the circumstances. But you might have no control over that and you might not think that is enough.

You should also insist that employment files be kept locked up, but by now your files could have been copied. If there were any medical records involved there may be a law violation. Otherwise, there may not be.

Calling a former employer is inappropriate as well, but also not illegal. Even a civil claim about it wouldn’t go far, since it didn’t cause you to suffer a loss of any kind. All of those things present a situation that is frustrating and angering but not illegal. You might consider contacting an employment attorney and asking for a free consultation about this matter. He or she could better advise you based on the details you could provide about exactly what was in the folder, how it was accessed and so forth. If nothing significant happens to change the behavior of the co-worker involved, your only options are to try to improve the workplace overall, hope such a negative thing never happens again, or find employment that is more congenial and where your employer cares about how one co-worker treats another.

You say this is a new place. If it is large enough to be part of a chain, perhaps there is an HR section, or at least a legal section. A large company would not like to think that employee records are not kept safe. If it’s a smaller place, the threatened walk-out of those of you who have suffered because of the others, would get the attention of management. But that might not be a good solution for you right now. You might also want to consider asking your manager to mediate a before-work meeting in which you all can talk about what has gone wrong with your interactions so far, and how to make them better. They may have complaints as well!

It may come down to doing as Dr. Gorden sometimes advises: Vote with your feet and leave. But first, give your boss a chance to work on it. Be the kind of employee he or she wants to support because you are easy to work with, a good employee and responsible. The other person clearly is NOT, based on these actions. If she is his favorite, in spite of that, you might not want to stay there anyway!

I wish there was a clear and easily arranged answer for your problem. I do think you might want to see if labor laws in your state were violated when an employee was able to gain access to your records. An attorney could answer that quickly. Other than that, until you find out what your employer does about it, you can only wait and decide what you will do if what you think is the correct action is done, and what you are willing to do if it isn’t.

We’d be interested in knowing what results on this if you have the time and wish to let us know.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.